LARGO — Al Rogers believed in humanity and in its struggle for goodness. The career military man fought in France and Germany, Korea and Vietnam, emerging from kill-or-be-killed situations with dark memories but few regrets.
He spent the rest of his life trying to improve his mind, staying fit and bringing up seven children. He retired from the Army in the mid 1960s as a lieutenant colonel, and later embarked on a second career in the federal civil service.
Lt. Col. Rogers was not a touchy-feely type. He raised his children to become as self-sufficient as he had been, and just as engaged in the world of books, politics and current events. Lt. Col. Rogers, a war hero who pushed himself to get the most out of life, died May 22. He was 91.
But for the dawn of World War II, his career might have taken a different course. Born in Worcester, Mass., he grew up in New Jersey. As a senior at a Long Island military academy, he anchored a record-setting mile relay team at the Penn Relays, leading to a track scholarship at Georgetown University. He dreamed of a career as a diplomat.
Instead, he enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor. A member of the 701st Tank Battalion, he participated in the invasion of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and other key battles. He received a battlefield commission and a Bronze Star with valor.
In 1945 he was part of the American forces arriving at Gardelegen, Germany, where they discovered the bodies of 1,016 prisoners massacred by their captors.
Lt. Col. Rogers remained in the Army. He married the former Marion Holmes. The family lived on military bases in Japan, Germany and the United States.
Lt. Col. Rogers also served in Korea and Vietnam. The family moved to St. Petersburg. His living room was filled with books on World Wars I and II, biographies and the poetry of A. E. Houseman.
"He got mad when he saw us watching TV," said daughter Anne McNeal, 56. "He would say, 'I have all these books here. Pick up a book and read.' "
He could insult deftly with a sense of humor that his daughter described as a "sarcastic spear." But he showed tenderness to the homeless, particularly women wandering the streets alone, handing them money and saying, "You dropped this."
He urged caution in international conflicts and supported the Democratic Party. He continued to run in retirement, and was preparing for a walking tour from Normandy, France, to Germany around 2000 when he suffered a debilitating stroke. His family cared for him at home.
"He was full of contradictions," his daughter said. "Here was this warrior, yet he would hit a tree rather than run over a squirrel. He would quote poetry. He loved reading and traveling, and really cared about his fellow man."
He was interred at Bay Pines National Cemetery with full military honors.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.